My heroic Marine Corp Dad continued to reinforce living an earth-bound life a reality full of harrowing moments punctuated by an ingrained compassion for a man who spent his young life fighting in the South Pacific and when finished was sent to help clean up Hiroshima after we dropped the bomb. He may have fought to win the war, but he failed to survive his memories of it. He brought them home and filled the house with night terrors, malaria, and occasional flashbacks that frightened his family and left him remorseful for all the chaos. Strewn furniture and broken dishes littered the floor and when in full swing, he grabbed his rifle to defend his country from an imagined enemy. I still feel the steel barrel pressed against my head while he uttered the words, “I don’t want to kill you, but I will if I have to.” Hours later, he crawled to his fox hole in the corner of the living room and slept from exhaustion.

Amid the fear, I found the courage to take away his rifle while he lay sleeping. Marines don’t raise stupid kids. We either survive them or learn from them. I managed to do both and sometimes I feel I’m better for being blessed with an extraordinary childhood that required me to become hyper-vigilant and understand the generosity of compassion when watching my father anguish over his demons while creating new ones.

When I was nineteen-years old, Dad knocked on my apartment door unannounced and asked if he could have a cup of coffee. He sat staring at his coffee for three hours and spread his war memories over the kitchen table as a way of an apology for making my childhood a misery for no apparent reason except the war kept coming back to him and all the men he killed and even details on torture methods used by both sides. The remorse of sharing the fall out of having lived a violent life eased the suffering in his eyes. I wasn’t old enough to understand the strength it took for him to come to my house that day, but his last words gave me comfort, “You always were my favorite. You got grit, Skeeter.”

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